The town appears to be on its way to becoming Merced County’s first sanctuary city, a symbolic self-designation meant to ease the minds of undocumented immigrants worried over ongoing changes to immigration policy under the Trump administration.
Emotions ran high during the regular meeting of the City Council on Tuesday as about a dozen residents spoke, some in English and some in Spanish, recounting their daily fears related to the undocumented immigrant status of themselves or their loved ones.
“We want our families together,” Adriana Meza said as her voice cracked with emotion. “We want to feel safe.”
The City Council heard a presentation on sanctuary cities during the meeting followed by the public input of concerned residents. None of the public speakers or elected officials spoke against a move to designate Livingston a sanctuary city.
Meza, a 25-year-old Fresno State student, said she came to Livingston with her family 22 years ago, and attended schools in the city of about 13,500. She said she feels safe when away at school – Fresno State has vowed to protect undocumented students – but she can’t help but worry about her family.
When you’re undocumented, you don’t feel safe calling the police, especially now.
Adriana Meza, 25, who grew up in Livingston
“When I leave town, I think about my mom, and I feel, if our community has our back, we will feel safer to go out or even call the police,” she said.
“When you’re undocumented, you don’t feel safe calling the police, especially now.”
Another resident, Floripes Dzib, urged the council to take on the sanctuary self-designation. The 38-year-old said Livingston has many undocumented residents who own homes, pay taxes and work locally.
Many of them are involved in difficult field work. “We depend on these workers,” she said.
President Donald Trump has talked about deporting 11 million people without documentation, and has promised to build a wall on the Mexican border, both of which have generated fear in the undocumented community, Livingston residents said.
That fear, real or imagined, has real effects on people and the city. A study released Jan. 26 by Tom K. Wong, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, found crime is significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared with counties without the designation. Economies in sanctuary counties are also stronger, the report said.
Deportation destroyed my family.
Dareck Gutierrez, 23, a Livingston native
The economic impact of removing a breadwinner from a family in a small community is particularly stark, the report says.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Dareck Gutierrez said his father was deported from Livingston to Mexico about a decade ago. Gutierrez, a 23-year-old construction worker, said he was born and raised in Livingston.
Without his father to help, he said, the family lost its home and was evicted.
“Deportation destroyed my family,” he said, fighting back tears.
Giving Tuesday’s presentation on sanctuary cities was Crissy Gallardo, a community organizer with the Merced Organizing Project, who said she is the daughter of an undocumented farmworker. She said local law enforcement should be focused on helping people locally, and not on enforcing federal mandates such as immigration.
“Our state is already moving on this with the California Values Act,” she said.
Senate Bill 54, called the California Values Act, would prohibit state law enforcement officials from sharing immigration-related data with federal immigration enforcement authorities.
The Livingston Police Department already does not share information with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Chief Ruben Chavez. Gallardo said the community would like further reassurance from the council.
The last thing we want is for you to be afraid out in the community.
Councilman Juan Aguilar Jr.
The Livingston City Council took no official vote Tuesday on sanctuary city status, but told staff to work with Gallardo and others to draft a resolution, which the council could vote on in the coming months.
If the city were to adopt such a resolution, Livingston would be the first municipality in Merced County to do so.
There are no firm numbers on how many undocumented immigrants live in Livingston. U.S. census figures from 2015 show that foreign-born residents accounted for 46 percent of Livingston’s nearly 14,000 people, but the data does not include information on immigration status.
People in 87 percent of Livingston households speak a language other than English, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That compares with 46 percent of households in each of Merced and Atwater, and 50 percent in Los Banos.
The Livingston Union School District designated itself a “safe haven” last month.
Trump has promised to crack down on sanctuary cities, saying he’ll yank federal funding, though state Democrats have pledged to push back.
Federal funding helped Livingston pay for one of three new police officers, who were sworn in during the same meeting.
Saying the issue is “important” to him, Councilman Juan Aguilar Jr. volunteered to be involved in the drafting of a resolution. He urged the undocumented residents to trust local law enforcement.
“The last thing we want is for you to be afraid out in the community,” he said.